Platforms:  Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Developers:  Danger Close, DICE

Publisher:  Electronic Arts (EA)

Rating:  “M” for Mature

Review by Nick Cohen

Platform Reviewed on:  Xbox 360

A summer with very few major game releases is a great time to dip into your back catalog of videogames and play the games you haven’t yet had a chance to.  With the impending release of Battlefield 3 at the end of October, I decided that now would be a great time to crack open my Limited Edition copy of 2010’s Medal of Honor and see if EA has already made a legitimate Call of Duty contender.  The fact that I can now get into the Battlefield 3 beta two days earlier next month doesn’t hurt, either.  Is Medal of Honor a Call of Duty killer?  The short answer is no, but I did enjoy some aspects of Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor is really two games in one; there’s a campaign and there’s multiplayer.  The two portions of gameplay vary wildly in quality thanks to two different developers (Danger Close and DICE, respectively), making for an uneven experience.  There is, however, one element that is in both portions of Medal of Honor—it’s darn fun to shoot guns in this game.

Medal of Honor undoubtedly features some of the best weapon firing sounds ever put into an FPS.  Every single gun sounds like it packs a major punch.  Supporting the great weapon sounds is a great feeling of power, weight, and realism when firing weapons.  When you shoot an enemy in the head with an assault rifle, you can almost feel the impact of bullet on flesh.  Medal of Honor absolutely nails what it feels like to fire powerful weaponry better than any other videogame I’ve played.  This is extremely important for a realistic modern military shooter, but the actual package built around the great core gameplay is often severely lacking.

As mentioned, Medal of Honor is really two different games in one.  I’ll begin with the first game:  the campaign.  Developed by recently-renamed internal EA studio Danger Close, Medal of Honor’s campaign runs on the Unreal Engine 3—the same engine that powers Gears of War.  This is strange, because Medal of Honor’s campaign is pretty darn ugly.  There’s a general level of fuzziness and jaggy textures that make the campaign look like it’s being played in high-definition on a PS2.  There are also plenty of visual bugs, like soldiers appearing out of nowhere right in front of you and floating corpses stuck in odd positions.  It’s not going to hurt your eyes, but the campaign doesn’t look like it was made for a major AAA FPS.  Instead, it looks like it was made by a smaller developer who didn’t have a lot of time for visual polishing.

Medal of Honor's campaign. It doesn't look this good in motion, trust me.

It does play well, however.  As mentioned, the core shooting gameplay is topnotch, and many of the levels are great.  The third level has you piloting an ATV from enemy camp to enemy camp, sneaking into each camp and trying to remain silent while you clear it of enemies.  In a later level, you are given an extremely powerful sniper rifle and must locate targets on a hillside, taking each one out with a gratifying headshot that pops their heads like watermelons.  Not all of the levels are equally great—the last level, in particular, has you facing off against endlessly respawning waves of generic enemies—but more levels are fun than are not fun.  I do wish that objectives had been more clear, though; I would sometimes get stuck and wander in circles because I missed the one line of dialogue explaining what I needed to do.  It’s too bad the campaign is over after only a few short hours, too; I was enjoying it.

The story is practically nonexistent.  There’s no overarching Call of Duty-style “bad guy” to defeat; this is a realistic tale of soldiers trying to survive in Afghanistan.  This works fine because Medal of Honor is going for a realistic feel.  You take control of a few characters, but one of the game’s flaws is that you don’t really have enough time to get to know any one of them because of the short length of the campaign and the fact that you bounce between characters so often.  If Medal of Honor’s campaign had been a couple hours longer, it may have been truly great.

In contrast to the mostly fun campaign, the multiplayer portion of Medal of Honor is a disaster.  Developed by DICE—the Swedish studio responsible for the excellent Battlefield series—Medal of Honor’s multiplayer is most easily summarized as a complete rip-off of Call of Duty.  The only major difference is that Call of Duty’s killstreaks have been replaced by scorechains, which are awarded for doing things such as killing enemies and capturing objectives.  It’s a good reward system, but the offensive scorechain rewards are too hard to use and ineffective.  Don’t expect to get many kills with mortar strikes and other offensive scorechains.

Medal of Honor's multiplayer may be pretty, but it's not fun.

Everything else in Medal of Honor’s multiplayer is exactly like Call of Duty, only worse.  There are no respawn timers in team deathmatch, but there aren’t any killcams, either, so snipers run amok.  There’s a persistent leveling system, but there aren’t enough things to unlock and they’re all unlocked in a linear progression.  There are only two respawn areas—one for each team—so you’ll often get killed by an enemy seconds after spawning, just like in Call of Duty.  I could go on and on, but you get the idea:  Medal of Honor’s multiplayer is like Call of Duty’s, but worse.

At least it looks fairly nice (unlike the campaign).  DICE is utilizing its acclaimed Frostbite engine in Medal of Honor’s multiplayer, so of course it looks good.  It doesn’t look as good as DICE’s own Battlefield:  Bad Company 2, but I’d say it looks a bit better than Call of Duty.  It’s just a shame that it doesn’t play well and won’t hold your attention as a result.  It doesn’t appear to have held anyone else’s attention, either; very few people are playing Medal of Honor online, making some game modes almost impossible to play.

Medal of Honor’s campaign is pretty good, but over too quickly.  The game’s multiplayer is a pathetic imitation of Call of Duty.  Put them together and you have a wildly inconsistent game, one that probably isn’t worth your time unless you’re bored like me and have nothing else to play.

Final score:  5/10


Sound:  8 (The one area where Medal of Honor truly shines is in its sound design.  Guns all sound great–realistic and very powerful.  Dialogue is often drowned out by the gunfire, however.)

Storyline:  6 (The game features very little story.  You control a few U.S. soldiers fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.  It’s realistic and all that was needed, but I wish you spent more time getting to know each character.)

Gameplay:  6 (The core shooting itself is fun.  The campaign, despite having some rough patches, is pretty good.  The multiplayer is atrocious.)

Graphics:  5 (The multiplayer runs on DICE’s Frostbite engine, meaning it looks pretty good.  The campaign runs on Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 but looks surprisingly unpolished and dated.  There are much better-looking shooters out there.)

Overall Fun Factor/Replay Value:  4 (The campaign is pretty fun…for the five hours it takes to beat it.  There’s a Tier 1 mode that increases the difficulty and makes it about completing the missions while timed, but it’s not enough to make you want to play through the game again.  The multiplayer is horrible; you’ll play it for an hour or two if you’re a masochist and then be done with it.)

Final Thoughts

            Medal of Honor really isn’t worth your time unless you absolutely need to play every military FPS out there and/or have exhausted every other game you own.  The campaign is good, but it’s too short to make it worth the purchase on its own.  The multiplayer is a waste of your time.  My recommendation is to stick to playing Call of Duty or Battlefield and forget that Medal of Honor exists.

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